Future for Playfair, Yakima Meadows?

Eric Nelson, the new operator of Playfair race course near Spokane, Wash., is considering racing options for Yakima Meadows, a track about 200 miles southwest of Spokane.

"It's real preliminary," he said. "I just had an interest in looking at the facility."

Nelson, who is based in Las Vegas, entered into a three-year lease agreement on Playfair in late May. His hopes are to reopen the track for simulcasting this year, and for racing in 2003.

His license application to the Washington Racing Commission is already completed. Nelson said he hopes to get an answer to his license request in July.

Eventually, once simulcasting begins, Nelson said if permitted, he plans to add a mini-casino and Instant Racing machines to the facility. Washington law would allow the added gaming, but the final decision would rest with the commission.

Nelson said now he is considering Yakima, and will either put together a proposal or abandon the idea within the next 45 days. That track is part of the Central Washington State Fair and would have to be leased and renovated for racing to be resurrected. Yakima has been closed since 1998.

"They're ready to get racing back in Washington," said Nelson, who also owns Wyoming Downs and co-owns idled Green Mountain Park in Vermont.

Of Yakima, Nelson said if he did make a proposal to race, it would probably be a shortened season, whereas he has indicated he would like to race at least 40 days at Playfair, the minimum required for unrestricted simulcasting rights.

The path isn't as clear for Nelson's venture in Vermont. Gov. Howard Dean has said he is against horse racing in his state. However, his term ends in January 2003. Nelson said he told his partner in Green Mountain, John Tietgens, "I'll come back when Gov. Dean steps down." Green Mountain has been closed since the mid 1990s when it held Greyhound racing. The 5,000-person capacity track opened in 1963 for Thoroughbred and Standardbred racing.

When asked if he has his sights on buying other tracks, Nelson indicated he is done for now. "I'm just a little guy," he said. "Little tracks for a little guy."